Thoughts on 'Thinking tasks'

Tomer

Registered
Hello GTD-ers!

I would like to hear some thoughts on handling tasks which require mostly thinking and "brain power" job. Maybe writing the thoughts down using mind-mapping techniques and so on.

I'd glad to know how do you engage this tasks. Do you set them as a regular task on the Next Action list like any other tasks? example: Spend an hour thinking about this and that....
OR
maybe you're scheduling a time for it on the calendar? for example: Thinking on... at 3 PM (maybe recurring if needed).

Currently, I have an item on the Next Action list for thinking kind of tasks. I tag the items (using EverNote) with '@Thinking' context.

Any other approach you suggest?
 

TesTeq

Registered
I'd glad to know how do you engage this tasks. Do you set them as a regular task on the Next Action list like any other tasks? example: Spend an hour thinking about this and that....
OR
maybe you're scheduling a time for it on the calendar? for example: Thinking on... at 3 PM (maybe recurring if needed).
Thinking is a deep work. You can create @brainstorm context and block time. For example... at 3 PM but I would prefer at 10 AM. And my action would never be "Spend an hour thinking about this and that" because the successful result of such action would be "an hour spent" regardles of this thinking outcome. ;-)
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Agreed. I would not put this on an action list. Simply block time on your calendar called deep work. Honor that block. No distractions. Focus!
 

Dave_Pray

Registered
So...here is a real world example "Brainstorm the various channels for sales support for the bankruptcy practice group". My context is "Anywhere". I post it as anywhere as the time can be right @office, @home. If I'm doing a good job of reviewing my list(s), the will sort. As a tool...when doing this by myself, I use Mindjet Mindmanager. I'm accumulating the various sales support channels. Once this preliminary work is done, I'll likely definitely have another next action which I'll either get from my project planning list or do after this step is complete.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
So...here is a real world example "Brainstorm the various channels for sales support for the bankruptcy practice group". My context is "Anywhere". I post it as anywhere as the time can be right @office, @home. If I'm doing a good job of reviewing my list(s), the will sort. As a tool...when doing this by myself, I use Mindjet Mindmanager. I'm accumulating the various sales support channels. Once this preliminary work is done, I'll likely definitely have another next action which I'll either get from my project planning list or do after this step is complete.
This too is a nice approach. However, I have found that if I do not block time on my calendar for appreciable thinking/deep work, it does not happen. So I suggest putting a stake in the ground for this versus on my action lists.
 

Tomer

Registered
my action would never be "Spend an hour thinking about this and that" because the successful result of such action would be "an hour spent" regardles of this thinking outcome. ;-)

Can you guys elaborate on this? How setting up an action on the Next Actions list is different then scheduling a blocked brainstorm?
thus, after all the outcome should be the same, isn't it?

Thanks!
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I am advocating protected, focus time on the calendar for this. If you want to track it on an actions list, that is fine. But go somewhere where you won't be bothered. Spend time focusing only on the problem at hand. If you don't schedule it, there is a greater chance it won't happen.
 

Gameboy70

Registered
Can you guys elaborate on this? How setting up an action on the Next Actions list is different then scheduling a blocked brainstorm?
thus, after all the outcome should be the same, isn't it?
This will vary from person to person. For me, a thinking task goes on my action lists if the thinking is straightforward. For instance, if I find myself procrastinating on making a call on my @Calls list, it's probably because I haven't worked out what I'm going to say when I'm on the phone, so I might then put "Work out discussion with Fred" on my @Anywhere list—assuming I can't think through it in a minute or two.

For tasks that require more robust thinking, I tend to block out time on my calendar. I'm working on a Rails application that doesn't use an off-the-rack CSS framework, and designing custom views is uncharted waters for me, so I need to sit down and chart the course, which will probably take more than an hour.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Yes! I do the same thing. If it is rather straightforward but requires some thinking through, this goes on my next actions list under Anywhere. However, complex problems require deep focus and thinking; these go as time blocks on my calendar.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
My experience is that when I know that I have captured and clarified all the stuff that is tugging on my attention, and it's all ok for now, my mind naturally turns to deeper matters that require insight and creativity. To be honest, I have had little luck with scheduling "deep work" or puttting "think about hard problem" on a next action list. What seems to work best is creation of time to think, that delicious feeling of nothing to do but follow my whims in thinking things over.

I've become fairly ruthless in handling everything else. If I have to tell someone no, I tell them, usually nicely. If I have to get something done by a deadline, I try to keep making progress towards finishing. In some sense, I want very thing that can be handled by showing up and applying gtd to get done as easily as possible, so I have room in my life for what's important.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I would suggest you read Cal Newport's book entitle "Deep Work".
I've read Cal Newport's blog posts, and he seems to me to be a busy, moderately successful young faculty member. I suppose it's nice to know that young faculty can make some extra money moonlighting in the self-help industry, but I am not sure I would enjoy having him as a colleague.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I've read Cal Newport's blog posts, and he seems to me to be a busy, moderately successful young faculty member. I suppose it's nice to know that young faculty can make some extra money moonlighting in the self-help industry, but I am not sure I would enjoy having him as a colleague.
Actually, he is highly successful and quite well-regarded in his field. And I would love to have him as a colleague.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
Actually, he is highly successful and quite well-regarded in his field. And I would love to have him as a colleague.

He's an associate professor in Georgetown's comp Sci department. That is successful, but no more than thousands of other faculty at other good schools. Like most similar faculty, he is very busy. I'm busy and you're busy too. Whenever Newport describes "deep work," it sounds to me like this thing called research that we are paid to do. Newport's tone strikes me as dismissive of time not spent on "deep work," as if teaching and service were not really worthwhile for someone like him.

My own thesis advisor, who missed a Nobel prize by a camel's nose, always said that he was glad to have teaching as a counterpoint to research. I think that attitude is consistent with GTD, which stresses appropriate response to all the things that come into our lives.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
He's an associate professor in Georgetown's comp Sci department. That is successful, but no more than thousands of other faculty at other good schools. Like most similar faculty, he is very busy. I'm busy and you're busy too. Whenever Newport describes "deep work," it sounds to me like this thing called research that we are paid to do. Newport's tone strikes me as dismissive of time not spent on "deep work," as if teaching and service were not really worthwhile for someone like him.

My own thesis advisor, who missed a Nobel prize by a camel's nose, always said that he was glad to have teaching as a counterpoint to research. I think that attitude is consistent with GTD, which stresses appropriate response to all the things that come into our lives.
We are paid to be faculty. This includes the tripartite mission of teaching, research, and service. Your analysis of him is incorrect, based on apparently incomplete data. He designates at least two full days a week to teaching. He NEVER has stated that teaching was not important. We as faculty are inundated with piles of shit coming our way in our inboxes every day. His approach is that we simply have to block time for our deep work....whatever that might be. I think, my dear colleague, that YOU are being dismissive of him and his approach without even reading his book.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
We are paid to be faculty. This includes the tripartite mission of teaching, research, and service. Your analysis of him is incorrect, based on apparently incomplete data. He designates at least two full days a week to teaching. He NEVER has stated that teaching was not important. We as faculty are inundated with piles of shit coming our way in our inboxes every day. His approach is that we simply have to block time for our deep work....whatever that might be. I think, my dear colleague, that YOU are being dismissive of him and his approach without even reading his book.

Perhaps. In my field, as opposed to the humanities, articles count, and books are optional . I have read Newport's blog for some time, and I am still subscribed to the RSS feed, so I don't think I am uninformed. I have chosen not to buy or read his books. I think referring to perfectly ordinary research activity as deep work is misleading and a bit pompous. I have looked pretty extensively at the literature on success in writing, including academic writing, and the consensus is that writing is a perfectly ordinary human activity that rewards consistent effort. Any day can be difficult or easy, carrying sometimes good and sometimes bad results. I don't think research is that different from the rest of my professional life, except perhaps for the degree of control I have. GTD seems to handle it all ok for me, with minimal time blocking. Of course, sometimes I have to take a turn driving the clown car, but I don't take that personally.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I am not in the Humanities either. I am a professor of microbiology and infectious diseases. With that said, I disagree with you and we will leave it at that. Cheers.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
I am not in the Humanities either. I am a professor of microbiology and infectious diseases. With that said, I disagree with you and we will leave it at that. Cheers.

I knew that you were a biologist (as is my wife), but thought the bit of an in-joke might amuse you. I'm glad if time blocking helps you. I've had some success with writing regularly in the morning as part of a project, but every attempt I have ever made at scheduling "deep thinking" might as well have been spent reading comic books; maybe it's me.
 

TesTeq

Registered
Can you guys elaborate on this? How setting up an action on the Next Actions list is different then scheduling a blocked brainstorm?
thus, after all the outcome should be the same, isn't it?
You can schedule this brainstorm session or put it on one of your Next Action lists. It's a personal preference. The goal is to get it done. David Allen suggests scheduling the hard landscape items to avoid rewriting scheduled items that are just wishful thinking. But when I schedule something it becomes my hard landscape even if it objectively isn't a hard landscape. It's a hard landscape by my decision to make sure that it will be done.
And once again: I would never call it "spend an hour thinking". I must see the result that I want to achieve.
 

TesTeq

Registered
I have looked pretty extensively at the literature on success in writing, including academic writing, and the consensus is that writing is a perfectly ordinary human activity that rewards consistent effort. Any day can be difficult or easy, carrying sometimes good and sometimes bad results.
Good results depend on many variables. One of them is the intensity level of distractions. Another one is the duration of time without distractions. The probability of good results is inversely proportional to the intensity of distractions and directly proportional to the duration of time without distractions. Cal Newport suggests that by blocking time for deep work we extend the available time without any distractions. It seems to be more distraction prooof than "writing regularly in the morning" and hoping that nobody will knock on the door.
 
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